Football – Oh, S—!

How do coaches perceive you? A former NFL referee asks the question in a most colorful way.

Oh,-S---!

By Jeffrey Stern
Referee senior editor

I’m guessing you can fill in the blanks in the title of this column. If you haven’t used the word even once in your life, I feel confident that you’ve at least heard it a time or two.

The title is part of a mantra Red Cashion, the great former NFL referee, told me once a long time ago. Red said, “You want to be a ‘Thank God’ official, not an “Oh, s —“ official.

Red was referring the reaction coaches have when you walk on the field before the game. You hope they feel confident in your abilities, that you’ll hustle, get the judgment calls correct and enforce penalties properly. So when you walk on the field, the coaches say aloud or to themselves, “Thank God I have this crew tonight.”

Coaches being coaches, you can do all of the things mentioned above and they will still have the feeling, “Oh, s —! Them again!” Likely something happened the last time you had that team and the coach can’t separate the crew from the fact that his fullback fumbled on the opponent’s one yardline, his star wideout dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone or the opposing kicker nailed a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the game. None of which is your fault, of course, but there is that connection.

Once you get labeled as an “Oh s —“ crew it’s hard to shake that tag. I’ve worked for coaches who felt they got jobbed by us 20 years ago. And maybe we did screw up that one time. We’ve had them every year since without incident, but the coach just can’t shake the memories of that one game.

Sadly you can go from a “Thank God” crew to an “Oh, s—“ crew in the wink of an eye. But the opposite is a tougher task.

The way you don’t want to become a “Thank God” crew is bad-mouthing another one. I’ve heard about coaches saying to an official, “I know we’re going to get a fair shake from you tonight. Not like last week.” When the official asks to whom he is referring, the coach only too happily coughs up the name of the previous crew. To which the official replies, “Oh, yeah. They’re awful. You’ve got the A-team tonight.”

Way to go, genius. You just fell into the trap. First of all, do you know for sure the coach really got screwed the week before? Or is he trying to curry favor tonight? Secondly, if he says that about another crew, do you honestly think he’d hesitate to tell next week’s crew the same about you? Right or wrong? Heck, maybe he says that to every crew.

If you are assigned to a team you’ve never had before, you have a golden opportunity to make the great first impression everyone talks about. Get in there, bust your butt and maybe you’ll find yourself on that coach’s preferred list. At least you’ll stay off his, umm, you-know-what list.

Referee Magazine(This column stemmed from an interview published in the February 2014 MyReferee issue of Referee Magazine.)

How to Give Accurate Evaluations

You’ve been asked to evaluate a fellow official and have been given an evaluator’s checklist. In many instances checklists offer only a limited perspective on how officials perform. The trouble is that listed characteristics are often too general and don’t reveal specific officiating actions in a contest. There are specific things you can do to improve your evaluating.

Use descriptions. An evaluation or observation report must describe, and doing that requires more than a traditional number system, which can be rather vague. Descriptions should be done in neutral phrasing, using non-opinionated terminology and avoiding critical remarks as much as possible. When officiating judgments are part of the picture, the description should be couched in tentative terms, such as, “You appeared to call strikes on pitches that may have been high in the strike zones of shorter hitters.” (Using you means that the evaluation report will be produced for the official as well as an administrative entity.)

Keep score. An observer can itemize behavior by making a tally of the way an official operated. If you’re in a good position to evaluate strike calls, say directly behind home plate, you can “keep score” by tracking pitches that either seem accurately called or else seem off the mark. Charting would also reveal patterns of an umpire’s judgment: missing low pitches, expanding the strike zone beyond the outside corner and so on.

Charting can be done in other sports as well. Keep track of how many times a football wing official adopted a progress spot on running plays by moving downfield parallel to the play and pivoting at a 90-degree angle to identify a dead-ball spot. In basketball, record how often a referee got caught trailing a fast break by several yards. Signals can also be described.

If isolated behavior needs recording, that can be done in narrative language: “With two minutes left in the first quarter, the referee and umpire conferred for 38 seconds before administering a penalty for holding.”

Give positive reinforcement. At upper levels of officiating, observers often try to record many more positive behaviors than negative ones. Part of objective evaluating is to reinforce correct officiating. With narrative descriptions, you can explain how an official appears to adopt the correct positioning before play, how he or she moves according to action and if the official seems to be looking in the proper places to execute judgments.

Share it. Should you share an evaluation with the person being observed? If you don’t, there’s little hope for improvement. Plus, a secret evaluation will likely be resented. Sharing a summary of patterns allows the official to reflect on the observations, moving the recipient to counter the perceptions or accept the evaluation as a positive stimulus for change.

Written by Jerry Grunska, a retired educator who lives in Evergreen, Colo. He officiated football for more than 40 years. This column originally appeared in the 11/04 issue of Referee.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

Practice Proper Preparation

Your game assignment actually begins well in advance of game day. Here is a list of important things to do as the assignment approaches:

Verify the assignment. At the very least, call the school within a week or so of the game. Talk to the person (usually the athletic director) who catches the heat if the officials don’t show. Don’t just leave a voice mail that says you’re coming because you can’t be sure what a lack of response means.

Confirm the time and location of the game and any special conditions that will exist. If you can, exchange cell phone numbers with the game manager, so you can inform each other of any last-minute problems all the way up to game time.

Firm up your travel arrangements. My football crew makes up a spreadsheet that includes the driver, the meeting point, who will provide the snacks and so on. Then I confirm each week’s plan as one of the last things we do before we part company after the previous game. The good crew chief also insists that the whole crew has each other’s cell phone numbers.

Check your equipment. Never trust anyone else to pack your gear for you. Check everything in your bag well ahead of time in case something needs mending or cleaning. A good approach, if somebody besides you washes your uniform, is to have the person return it fresh from the dryer so you can check, fold and account for it going into your bag yourself.

Do some homework. Opinions vary on how much you should find out about the teams before the game. You owe it to them and yourself to have at least some idea of how competitive and skillful it will be, plus what’s on the line for each team. Conversely, you don’t want to have so thick a book on the teams that you anticipate things that don’t actually occur.

Check the weather on game day. If a monsoon or blizzard is in the forecast, consider padding your travel plans. Remember that one person’s short sleeve weather is another person’s visit to the South Pole. Get to the crew ahead of time to agree on dress and an updated travel plan well in advance.

Physically prepare. Each person has his or her own standard for sleep and food intake before a game. The best plan is to stick to it. Don’t experiment the night before the championship game, especially when you travel to a place where the water or menu is likely to be different from what you’re used to.

Adjust your workout routine and preparation as the season progresses. Watch for the signs of feeling stiffer and less flexible that come when you’re working too much. Allow yourself more recovery time. It’s easier to stay in shape than get back in shape with each passing year.

In all your preparations for an assignment, bear in mind a sure way to ruin a reputation is to miss an assignment in a way that was avoidable. Never assume details. Look after yourself and you’ll be a long way toward being the type of official who keeps getting invited back.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, is a former football and soccer college official who now works high school football, basketball and volleyball.

Copyright© Referee Enterprises, Inc.
This article is copyrighted by Referee Enterprises, Inc. (REI), and may not be republished in whole or in part online, in print or in any capacity without expressed written permission from REI. It is available online as an educational tool for individuals. Visit us at www.referee.com.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Career Opportunities | Contact Us